Israel conquers England, still knocked out

Blue-and-white wins 1-0, finishes with a respectable 4 points as Italy and Norway advance.

June 11, 2013 23:34
3 minute read.
Israel beats England in European Under-21 championship action at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem.

Team Israel UEFA championships 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Israel may have already lost any real hope of qualifying for the European Under-21 Championship semifinals, but it at least ended its campaign on a sweet note on Tuesday night, beating England 1-0 at Teddy Stadium in its final Group A match.

On paper, Israel still had a chance of reaching the last four entering the encounter, but it required an unrealistic combination of a victory over England, a Norway loss to Italy and a six-goal swing in its favor.

Italy and Norway drew 1-1 in Group A’s other match at Bloomfield Stadium to ensure they both advanced to the semis regardless of the result at Teddy.

However, Ofir Kriaf gave Israel a reason to celebrate with an 80th-minute goal with what was just the blue-and-white’s second attempt on target, securing the team’s first ever victory in the tournament.

“I couldn’t be happier with this win over England after all of the obituaries which were written about me and the national team,” said Luzon, who nevertheless insisted that he didn’t read or hear the criticism leveled at him.

“The more I am criticized the stronger I become. It’s a great challenge for me and gives me extra motivation.”

Luzon guided the Under-21 team for the final time on Tuesday after signing a contract with Belgian club Standard Liege before the start of the tournament.

“I’m delighted to have been given the opportunity to coach these players,” added Luzon, who celebrated as if his team had won the tournament following Kriaf’s goal and the final whistle. “I really love these players and I’m really saddened to be leaving them.”

Luzon then explained why he had come under so much fire in the past week.

“I always say the truth unlike all the hypocrites,” he noted. “I said that every point we win and every goal we score would be an achievement. We have finished above England, Germany and Russia and that is not going to happen again in my lifetime.”

England created the better chances on Tuesday, but failed to find the back of the net, ending the tournament without a point having scored just once, with even that being netted from the penalty spot.

“The players have to take that on the chin. I’m not coming out here defending anyone, I’m sick of doing that,” said England coach Stuart Pearce, who will soon be out of contract and is unlikely to be handed an extension considering the team’s dismal display in Israel.

“It’s difficult to support the players after those three games. The standard we have set before this tournament is a million miles away from that.

“The bottom line is you expect your players to do the basics, you don’t expect to stand in the technical area and tell them the same things eight or nine times.”

After initially blaming the players who didn’t come to Israel for his side’s poor play, Pearce lashed out at those who were on the pitch on Tuesday.

“I don’t see why I should stand here and defend them, let them come here and speak to the cameras,” he added. “It certainly won’t affect my position, whether it affects the FA’s position, I don’t know. I took the team into the tournament. We were poor in the tournament and poor tonight. We got what we deserved.”

Knowing that they had in all likelihood already secured their progress, Italy and Norway rested their starters on Tuesday. Italy made seven changes to its lineup, while Norway made nine.

Norway seemed to be heading to the win and up to first place in the group when Stefan Strandberg scored from the penalty spot in the 90th minute.

However, a goalkeeping howler by Arild Østbø gifted the Italians the equalizer in the fourth minute of stoppage time, with Andrea Bertolacci scoring with his back to the goal.

Italy and Norway now await either the Netherlands or Spain in the semifinals.

A draw or better for the Dutch against the Spaniards on Wednesday will see them win Group B and face Norway, while Spain requires a victory in Petah Tikva to avoid a meeting with Italy in the semis.

Also Wednesday, Germany faces Russia, with both teams still without a point.

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